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Stand for something, or fall for anything

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I was quite impressed last week when I saw photographs of Vincentians participating in the many marches and protests in different parts of the US. The photographs I saw were mainly of women, but I assume that Vincentian men were there. What might have been going through the minds of some of them, even though not necessarily consciously so, is the issue so profoundly stated in Niemellor’s poem. “At first they came for the Socialist, but I was not a Socialist…then they came for me and there was no one left to speak for me.” One of the issues that drove them to the streets would have been the threats to the immigration of Muslims from identified countries, sold as an attempt to fight terrorism. It must have dawned on them, given the rhetoric of the president, that this is likely to move beyond Mus­lims. What particularly impressed me was a post by a young Vincentian as she prepared to join the protests – “Stand for something or fall for anything.” It meant that she was going beyond that narrow focus and was looking at the longer-term implications. I need also to make the point that historically at home women have been in the forefront of struggles. The best example was the 1935 Riots, where women were among the earliest of the protestors in the yard of the courthouse.

Is it that the exposure from being in the US is helping to develop their political consciousness? I remember Walter Rodney making the point looking regionally, that while we treat as outcasts the many young men liming at the street corners, they went to the UK in the 50s and 60s and virtually took control of the British transit system. Are we stifled by the environment in the Caribbean? Is that developing consciousness being brought to bear on developments at home? How do we tap that potential not only to get them involved in our country’s economic development, but to use that political consciousness to assess things at home and dialogue with us outside of a party framework? How do we see the diaspora – simply as persons that can raise funds for the country or as potential investors? How do we react when they begin to raise questions about issues in the country?

Social media and communication developments generally have created a medium by which the diaspora can become fully involved. Recent developments in the US can provide a point of entry. It is generally believed that there are enough checks and balances in the US system to thwart any threat to demo­cracy, but we must examine carefully recent developments, remembering that in the final analysis, people have to be the movers. One glaring issue is the way Obama’s nominee for the Supreme Court was discarded for almost a year by Con­gress. Bill Maher, the American political satirist, argues that the only safeguard to the destruction of American democracy rested in the hands of Repub­licans who have spine enough to stand up.

My broad concern, however, is with us. We do not have the kinds of checks and balances that America has. Moreover, many of us are spineless. If perceived threats to American democracy exist, what can be said about our much smaller country? We used to say and in fact, still do, that the only major threat to Carib­bean democracy was the 1983 Grenada Revolution. The point of emphasis was the fact that the government was not changed by the traditional method the ballot box, and did not themselves call elections (which at some point they probably would have won).

We must put more emphasis on our electoral machinery and process – on the use of money, the naked and disgraceful bribery that exists and the fact that persons outside of the political parties remain silent. I have often said that our major problem with fair elections is that the Government is our major employer and many feel that they could not exist without favours from them. The sums of money being used now to fight elections in our poor country should have already raised alarm bells. From where does that money come and for what is it used? And what is the trade-off? It is obvious that he who pays the piper will always call the tune.

We must look again at what we perceive to be our democracy. A democracy cannot genuinely exist under these circumstances unless the people see their role beyond the casting of ballots. As Obama said, we have a responsibility to be guardians of our democracy. Let us not assume that our job is done when we cast our ballots. It is for this reason that I was impressed with those young women who went out to give support to those fighting to defend American democracy. Can they not help to spread that word among friends and relatives at home, that those who stand for nothing will fall for anything?

Let us at this point forget the opposition parties. They have their role.

Why are most of us silent? Why do we fail to see any perceived threats to a democracy which we copied from Britain, admittedly minus its norms and values, or worse still, was forced on us?

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian.

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